How to Make Easy Queso Fresco, Fresh Mexican Cheese
If you've ever enjoyed Mexican food sprinkled with crumbles of mild, white cheese, then you've tasted queso fresco. Also known as "fresh cheese," queso fresco is a semisoft unaged cheese with a moist and creamy texture and a mild, lightly salty flavor, and it's often featured in Mexican and other Latin American cuisines. But, did you know it's incredibly easy to make in your own kitchen? I'll show you how to do it.
How to Make Queso Fresco at Home
Based on Homemade Queso Fresco
1. Gather your equipment and ingredients.
Only a few simple tools are needed: a heavy pot, a rubber spatula, an instant-read thermometer, cheesecloth, something to drain the cheese (a colander or an empty plastic container with holes), and some kind of weight (a small container filled with water or pie weights). The ingredients are simple, too: you'll want to use ½ gallon of whole milk, ¼ rennet tablet or ¼ teaspoon liquid rennet, and 2 tablespoons kosher salt.
2. Make the rennet solution.
Rennet, an enzyme used to coagulate the milk, must be diluted in water before use. Crush or mix the rennet in ¼ cup cool, distilled water and set aside. It's important to use distilled water, which is free from any chemicals or minerals.
3. Heat the milk.
In a heavy pot, heat the milk to 90 degrees F (32 degrees C), using an instant-read thermometer to measure the temperature accurately. Make sure to stir often so the milk doesn't scorch on the bottom of the pot.
4. Add the rennet and let rest.
Add the rennet solution to the warm milk by stirring very gently and slowly for about 5 seconds. Be careful not to stir too much, as this can disrupt the curd formation. Let the curd sit, covered, in a warm place for 40 minutes, until it forms a thick mass. Check for a "clean break" by placing a spatula in the curd and gently lifting. It should split along a clean line (not be too soft or milky). If it isn't quite firm, cover the pot and let it sit for another 10 minutes and test again.
5. Cut the curd and heat.
Using the spatula, cut the curds into ¼-inch cubes. Heat the curds and whey to 110 to 115 degrees F (43 to 46 degrees C), for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. You will see a clear separation of solid curds and liquid whey.
6. Drain and salt.
Ladle the curds into a colander to drain (discard the whey or keep it for another use). Using your fingers, gently mix in the salt to combine.
7. Press the cheese.
Transfer the curds to a cheesecloth-lined mold with holes (a colander or plastic container works well). Place a clean, heavy weight on top, such as a small bowl filled with pie weights or a jar filled with water, and let it sit for 4 to 6 hours to press out the water and form the cheese. The cheese is now ready to eat, or you can cover and refrigerate it for up to 2 weeks.
What is the difference between Queso Fresco, Queso Blanco, and Cotija Cheese?
There are a number of fresh Latin cheeses that can be used interchangeably for many dishes, but have some subtle differences:
Queso Fresco: Translated as "fresh cheese." Since it's made with rennet, queso fresco melts nicely when heated.
Queso Blanco: Translated as "white cheese." This fresh cheese is not made with rennet, and doesn't melt when heated (even when fried). It has a mild, slightly sweet flavor and is much softer in texture than queso fresco. This cheese is made with vinegar, is not pressed in a mold, and is best eaten the day it is made.
Cotija: Made with rennet, this cheese is soaked in a brine or rubbed with salt after being pressed, for a more distinctly salty and tangy flavor. This cheese can be aged slightly, to make it even drier and firmer than queso fresco, and is often grated like Parmesan cheese.
Tips for Making Queso Fresco
- Always start with clean equipment: wash everything in hot, soapy water and rinse well before you begin, to avoid any cross-contamination that might ruin your cheese.
- Rennet is an enzyme that is used to coagulate curds to get a firm texture. You can use animal or vegetarian rennet. Both need to be diluted in cool, unchlorinated water before use. You can purchase rennet online, at many beer-making supply shops, or at some health food stores. Do not use junket rennet.
- Curds are the solid pieces of coagulated fat and protein that will turn into your final cheese, once drained and pressed.
- Whey is the liquid left over from the cheese making process. It is packed with vitamins and minerals, and is great blended into smoothies, soups, or used in baked goods.
Favorite Ways to Use Queso Fresco
These top-rated chicken enchiladas are baked with a homemade green tomatillo sauce and topped with crumbled queso fresco.
Queso fresco sprinkled over the top of this quick and spicy soup gives it just the right finish.
Rounds of queso fresco are marinated in salsa and heated to make a creamy, spicy dip.
Want to try your hand at other fresh cheeses? Check out Chef John's Homemade Cheese and Homemade Fresh Cheese. Though not true queso fresco, you can make these two easy recipes taste similar by adding salt and pressing them for a few hours. But remember, since they are not made with rennet, they won't melt!